Detroit Lions Roster Battles: S Ricardo Silva vs. S Erik Coleman

Michael SuddsCorrespondent ISeptember 1, 2011

FLOWERY BRANCH, GA - JULY 30:  Erik Coleman #26 of the Atlanta Falcons runs drills during opening day of training camp on July 30, 2010 at the Falcons Training Complex in Flowery Branch, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

I was going to include John Wendling into the mix, but Wendling signed a two-year contract back in July. Wendling, the punt coverage super stud is a lock for the roster. The only question remaining is where he fits on the depth chart.

The real battle appears to be free-agent Erik Coleman vs. UDFA Ricardo Silva. It looks like a race to the wire, folks.

Let’s start with Silva. The 6’3”, 225-lb product of Hampton was mostly used as a run support strong safety and the nickel LB in school. His numbers weren’t very gaudy, either.

In fact, the only Silva that I scouted for DraftTek was Hawaii’s Mana Silva. It took the prompting of a pro scout to get me to take a look at Ricardo at all.

Everything about Ricardo Silva told me that he’d be projected as an OLB by the NFL. After all, Silva lacks the straight line speed (4.60 40 at his Pro Day) to play safety in the NFL.

I was surprised when the Lions signed the UDFA and brought him into training camp. I watched him for the first time in camp and went WOW! Silva wasn’t pretty, but he made plays.

Technically, Silva looks more like a rookie linebacker: High, choppy back-peddle and too slow  breaking down into coverage. On the plus side, Silva exhibited an adequate transition into run support. Plainly put, Silva’s technique is extremely raw, and only his excellent athleticism mitigates his technical shortcomings.

The eyeball test tells a slightly different story. Silva, folks, is a real football player. Just ask Lions RB Jahvid Best, who caught a Stafford pass over the middle in a training camp drill. BOOM! Silva blew Best up with the hardest contact seen in camp.

Silva’s coach, Tim Walton, gave Silva a little sideline “tune up” regarding contact against skill-position players in training camp. Apparently, Silva didn’t get the memo.

We’ve all seen Silva in the preseason games. Other than Amari Spievey, Silva has emerged as the most productive player at the safety position. Two interceptions and a fumble recovery in three games is pretty good production.

The first of those interceptions was a gift, to be sure. The latter, whether by design or instinct was a thing of beauty. It was as if Silva knew where Tom Brady was going with that pass when he jumped the receiver’s route.

It was a playmaker’s play.

The coaching staff has acknowledged Silva’s on-field presence, but expressed deep concerns regarding his lack of technical expertise.

Knowing offensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham’s aversion to playing rookies with less than golden pedigrees, would lead one to the conclusion that Silva’s days may be numbered.

The other player contesting for the final safety roster spot is nine-year pro, Erik Coleman.

Coleman is the 5’10”, 205-lb free agent who was snapped up by Martin Mayhew back in February after being released by the Atlanta Falcons.

Coleman’s best season came in 2008, where he had a career-high three interceptions to go along with 93 total tackles, tops on the Falcon’s team.

Coleman was a salary cap casualty in Atlanta after a 2010 season that saw Coleman used in a reserve role while 2009 second-round pick William Moore was groomed to take Coleman’s job.

Coleman came into the 2011 Lions' training camp with the expectation that he would be Louis Delmas’ first-team partner. A couple of things happened along the way.

First, Coleman just didn’t look like first string material in camp. His coverage was way too loose and he seemed to be taking some bad angles to the ball.

The other thing that happened was the emergence of Amari Spievey as the real deal. Spievey’s play has been good enough that he was awarded the starting spot early in camp.

I don’t know if Coleman’s poor showing is a result of his mishandling in a reserve role last year by Atlanta. Coleman only played 151 snaps over four games and played poorly.

Being in a new system isn’t as big a deal for safeties as it is for linebackers. All a safety needs to learn is the coverage “calls.” The rest relies mainly upon instincts and anticipation in diagnosing offensive plays.

This roster spot is anything but settled—yet. We can give an ever so slight nod to “Coolman," as he was called in his Jets days, based on experience and technique.

On the other hand, Silva might show enough promise to stay on the roster at the expense of a veteran like OLB Isaiah Ekejiuba or DT/DE Andre Fluellen.

In the Buffalo game tonight, we might see a standout performance. The question is: By whom?

In the final analysis, this hotly contested race will go to the wire.



Mike Sudds is a syndicated Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Mike is also an analyst and correspondent for